Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Clinging To A Scheme
The Radio Dept. and Young Prisms at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangFact one: The Radio Dept. are not, by any conventional standard, an exciting live band. Fact two: I was terribly excited to see The Radio Dept. make their live Toronto debut on Monday night. The first point I’d gained first-hand knowledge of when I took a pilgrimage to see them in New York City in May 2009 for what I figured would be my only chance to see the band who’d made some of my favourite records of the past decade live, and so the fact that I was wrong about that and they were finally coming to my own hood cemented point two. And I wasn’t the only one who’d been waiting patiently for this day, judging from the other 500 people who sold out Lee’s Palace for the occasion.
Theirs wasn’t the only Toronto debut happening on this evening, though technically Young Prisms took their first Hogtown stage earlier that afternoon across the street at Sonic Boom for an in-store. Still, this was probably the first introduction for most to the group of San Francisco youngsters who just released their debut album Friends For Now and even for those of us who’d heard them in advance, there were still some revelations. For example, so effectively is the album sonically obscured and wrapped in distortion that I didn’t realize their lead singer was a girl until she took the mic. Live, they were less about the fuzz and more about the pummel, the bass and guitar often working in tandem for a unified, full-frequency drone attack with one or the other occasionally breaking formation to contribute some melody. All of which would have been overly dull if not for the fact that they had some solid pop tunes anchoring it all and a pleasantly goofy demeanour – in particular, they seemed really excited about both the concept and execution of poutine.
The Radio Dept. are about their songs. The writing of and the recording of those heartrendingly sublime synth/fuzz pop gems, first and foremost, and not the performing of or heavens forfend the promotion of, hence their taking years upon years to release a new record and reluctance to take it on the road. But because those records and songs are so good, their fans around the world can’t help but clamour to hear them live and when they oblige, as they’ve done so more frequently in the past couple of years, it’s on their terms. I think this is important to appreciating their show, which is stripped-down to say the least. Playing in near-darkness with Martin Larsson on guitar and bass, Daniel Tjäder on keys and laptop and Johan Duncanson on guitar run through a cheap-as-you-get practice guitar amp, they were clearly not about spectacle.
With the simplicity of their presentation and reliance on pre-recorded backing tracks, they often seemed like they were jamming overtop CDs or drum machines in their basements, making music for the joy of making music, never mind anything else. And that was really what it was – rather than recontextualizing their songs for the stage, it was as if they instead invited the audience into their studio to hear them work. And really, though I’m as much pro-live drummer as anyone you’ll ever meet, it would have just been wrong on many of these songs, whose simple, distorted mechanical rhythms are like their beating hearts. All of which is to say that yes, The Radio Dept. are understated performers – almost to a fault – but it’s how it has to be.
Happily, the audience seemed to understand this and there was no restlessness in the house over the course of the set. In fact, the enthusiasm of the packed house was rather at odds with the band’s reservedness – between the hearty applause after every song, each one someone out there’s favourite, and hollered requests or just thanks, their Scandinavian stoicism cracked more than a few times into smiles or even grins. They may not like touring but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it. In return, they played a set that leaned heavily on their breakthrough Clinging To A Scheme and featured only a couple each from Pet Grief and Lesser Matters, but in keeping with the theme of their Passive Aggressive compilation, long-time fans were still rewarded with a good number of non-album singles and b-sides. At an hour including the one-song encore – the soaring “Pulling Our Weight” b-side “The City Limits” – it was far too short a night with too many wonderful songs left unplayed – especially considering that the odds of them returning soon, if ever, are long at best – but that, like expecting rock moves or extended banter, was the wrong perspective to take. That they were here at all was a gift, and a near-perfect one.
Exclaim also has a review of the show while Toronto Star and The Boston Globe have interviews with The Radio Dept. SF Weekly has an interview with Young Prisms, who are back for a show at Parts & Labour on April 21 supporting The Fresh & Onlys.
Photos: The Radio Dept., Young Prisms @ Lee’s Palace – February 7, 2011
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “On Your Side”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “The One”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “The New Improved Hypocrisy”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “Never Follow Suit”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “Heaven’s On Fire”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “Freddie & The Trojan Horse”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “David”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “The Worst Taste In Music”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “A Window”
MP3: The Radio Dept – “Pulling Our Weight”
MP3: The Radio Dept. – “Why Won’t You Talk About It?”
MP3: Young Prisms – “Sugar”
MP3: Young Prisms – “Weekends And Treehouses”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “Never Follow Suit”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “The Worst Taste In Music”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done”
Video: The Radio Dept. – “Pulling Our Weight”
Video: Lykke Li – “I Follow Rivers”
Video: Jonsi – “Go Do”
A second Jeff Tweedy solo show has been announced for March 23 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre; ticket presale goes today at 10AM regular on-sale is Friday. Support for both Tweedy shows and his whole solo tour comes from Toronto’s Snowblink, whose debut Long Live is out next Tuesday and who has an in-store at Soundscapes on March 3 and an album release show at The Music Gallery on March 5.
Basia Bulat will play at The Great Hall on March 26 as part of JunoFest; tickets for the show are $17.50 or free with the $30 JunoFest wristband. And who doesn’t want a JunoFest wristband? They’re like the new LiveStrong wristband. Except not.
Just as they promised last week when opening for The Decemberists, Wye Oak will be back on April 9 for a show at The El Mocambo. Their new record Civilian will have been out a month and a day by that point. Let’s hope Jenn Wasner’s guitar amp survives the duration of the show this time.
MP3: Wye Oak – “Civlian”
Nashville rock-rockers accumulating quite the buzz overseas Mona will be in town for a free show at The Horseshoe on April 19. Advance word likens them to Kings Of Leon so maybe make plans to get there early or stay far far away. Their self-titled debut is out May 16.
Video: Mona – “Teenager”